Terps fall on road to No. 2 Buckeyes despite valiant effort

With just over two and a half minutes to play in Sunday afternoon’s matchup between Maryland and No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus, prolific Buckeye guard Jacy Sheldon had the ball and drove to the top of the key as time was winding down on the shot clock. With two defenders in her face, Sheldon threaded the needle with a precise bounce pass to teammate Cotie McMahon. 

McMahon – standing just outside of the restricted area – received Sheldon’s pass with her back to the rim, and two Maryland defenders between herself and the basket. With just a second left on the shot clock and multiple hands in her face, McMahon rose up and floated a right-handed jumper that hung on the rim, before falling for Ohio State’s final points of the afternoon.   

McMahon’s tough make capped off a clinical Ohio State performance, in which the Buckeyes made nine three-pointers – seven of which came in the first half – and forced 15 Maryland turnovers, en route to a 79-66 victory.

“I think they’re a Final Four team,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese, of Ohio State. “For us, I’m proud of the fact that we came in and competed for 40 minutes.”

Suffocating defense has been the stalwart for the Buckeyes throughout this season, however, the story of Ohio State’s first half was their offense. The Buckeyes shot 53% from the field– led by lethal three-point shooting from Sheldon and Celeste Taylor  – during the opening 20 minutes, while also outscoring Maryland 11-2 off of the 10 turnovers they forced.

“We wanted to make Ohio State shoot the three,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese. “They only average seven threes a game, and they had that in the first half, so kudos to them.”

Numerous Maryland’s giveaways came due in part to Ohio State’s full-court press, which made it difficult for the Terps to push the ball up the floor on practically every possession.

“I mean, that’s the game right there,” said Maryland’s Brinae Alexander in regards to Maryland’s turnovers. “That’s on us.” 

Ohio State’s press also exposed Maryland’s shortage of consistent three-point shooting. On most of Maryland’s inbound plays the Buckeyes dropped four defenders into the backcourt, and left one defender under the basket. This defensive setup meant that whenever the Terps were able to beat the press, they usually found themselves with solid looks from three, but couldn’t drive to the basket for easy layups like they usually look to do.   

To make matters worse, the Terps spent much of the first half without Shyanne Sellers – their most effective mid-range shooter – who found herself in early foul trouble and only played eight of the opening 20 minutes.

“We have a small margin for error,” said Frese. “Everybody [has] to show up. We can’t have no-shows anymore. We can’t have players in foul trouble in the first half.”

Despite everything that went wrong for Maryland in the first half, the Terps were still relatively in striking distance going into the break, as they trailed the Buckeyes 44-31. Nearly 75% of Maryland’s 31 points came from Bri McDaniel and Brinae Alexander, who had 13 and 10 respectively. McDaniel was doing much of her work by driving to the basket, while Alexander found her three-point spot from the wing.         

With Sellers back on the floor to start the second half, the Maryland offense looked to be more composed, as it pieced together a 12-5 run in the middle of the third quarter, to cut the deficit within single digits. 

“I think we’ve always put emphasis on our third quarters,” said Alexander. “At the beginning of conference play that’s when our lull was happening during games, so we really wanted to put [an] emphasis on turning that around.” 

Following a scoreless first half, Jakia Brown-Turner also made her presence felt coming out of the half, as she had 10 points and four rebounds in the third quarter. Brown-Turner’s 10 third-quarter points, however, were the only points she scored all game.  

“[When] you take [Sellers] off the court, then [they] can put a better defender on [Jakia],” said Frese, who was clearly frustrated with the way that Sellers’ early foul trouble affected the rest of the team.  

Even with the increased offensive output, Maryland was still struggling to get consistent stops without fouling, which was a big reason why the Terps were still trailing by five as the fourth quarter began. But unfortunately for the Terps, they never got any closer. 

Maryland’s lack of depth once again showed up in the fourth quarter. Not only did the Terps struggle to get timely stops, but the scoring dried up too, as they only made four field goals the entire quarter.     

All 19 of the Buckeyes’ fourth-quarter points also came from their starters, as every single member of their starting five finished the game in double figures.   

Winning in Columbus was never going to be easy. In order to pull the upset over the No. 2 team in the country the Terps would’ve had to piece together a near flawless performance, and after their slow start against the Buckeyes, they were never able to fully recover. 

“We’ve already faced a lot of adversity, and I think from here on out it’s just about taking it one practice at a time, one game at a time, [and] also being mentally tough,” said Alexander. “ No one is going to feel sorry for us, so it is what it is at this point, so it’s about being mentally tough moving forward.”

While the loss by no means derails Maryland’s chances of making the NCAA tournament, Sunday’s defeat highlights one of the biggest holes in their overall resume — a now 1-6 record against teams that are currently ranked in the top 25. 

The Terps will still have another chance at a signature win when they travel to No. 14 Indiana next Sunday. Before that matchup, however, The Terps will return to the Xfinity Center to take on Wisconsin (13-12, 6-9) on Thursday at 6 p.m.